A Lombard man previously convicted of attempted murder was acquitted of the very same charge Thursday by a DuPage County judge.
Judge George Bakalis found Adam Hearn, 33, not guilty of attempted murder but declined to rule on a remaining charge of armed violence. The allegations stem from a March 2011 stabbing at BlackFinn American Saloon in Naperville.
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Bakalis acquitted Hearn after prosecutors rested their case and the defense sought an immediate finding. He said prosecutors lacked evidence to prove Hearn intended to kill when he knifed bouncer Sean Brutto during a chaotic confrontation.
The judge noted Brutto had Hearn in a headlock when he was stabbed in the abdomen and the injury did not turn out to be life-threatening.
"Mr. Hearn isn't even able to see what he is doing," Bakalis said. "He just struck with the knife. He didn't attempt to stab (Brutto) again or anything of that nature."
Brutto was injured after he tried to eject Hearn and his date from the women's restroom, where they were caught smoking. According to testimony, Hearn punched Brutto when Brutto grabbed Hearn by the elbow to lead him out. Brutto, a former wrestler, testified he tried to put Hearn in a "guillotine chokehold" but did not complete the move before other bar staff rushed in to help.
Defense attorney Michael Reidy portrayed the altercation as "two guys fighting it out" until his client found himself being choked and surrounded.
"If he wanted to kill Mr. Brutto, why didn't he stab more than once?" Reidy said.
Hearn later testified that he was "terrified, panicking," and seeing white flashes as he was choked while at least four people ganged up on him. He said he reached for a pocketknife he carries for work and "thrust it in front of me to get whoever was on me off."
"I think I'm going to die," he testified, recalling the episode. On cross-examination, he said he could remember few other details, including being in the women's restroom and talking to police.
But prosecutors insisted Hearn was "hellbent on destroying" Brutto because he didn't like how he was being treated at the bar, which had kicked him out earlier in the night. They said Brutto wasn't aggressive until Hearn threw the first punch.
"The defendant went nuts that night," Assistant State's Attorney Joe Lindt said. "He was going to take (Brutto) out, and he did so by pulling out that knife."
Hearn was about 17 years old when, in 1996, he was convicted of attempted murder for opening fire on a gang rival's party and striking a woman in the buttocks, according to court records. Because of his background, he still could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of armed violence.
Bakalis, who is presiding over Hearn's bench trial, will hear closing arguments Friday morning.